The image of the beautiful young couple wearing surgical masks at their wedding is still vivid in our minds. Although the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global outbreak of SARS "contained" this month, news reports of the deathly sickness are not forgotten.
SARS is the first severe and easily transmissible new disease to emerge in the 21st century. It devastated China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan and spread to 27 other countries. People spent the spring living in fear. It pummeled the Asian economy and all but stopped travel to the region.
With the travel season underway, how do tourism boards and airlines spread the word the countries plagued by the epidemic are now SARS-free? A well-orchestrated Web site could contribute to the communications effort. Recently, I took a tour of a few sites to see if they offer any insight into how -- or how not -- to use Web content to help handle the aftermath of a dicey situation.
Don't Scare Readers
All Asian travel-related sites face acknowledging a crisis occurred, without scaring readers. China Airlines gets kudos for accomplishing this balancing act. A "No SARS" icon appears on the left-hand side of the home page. When clicked, it leads to an informative section stating, "China Airlines Leads the Way to Your Healthy Journey."
On the page are the latest updates on SARS, international news, videos, and ticketing issues. Additionally there's a description of the airline's "Hi-tech Air Filtration System" and more information on how China Airlines is taking "stringent actions" to protect passengers. It borders on information overkill, but it's just about all you need to know from the airline. Now that the threat is reduced, the Webmaster might consider removing the photos of masked employees.
Singapore Airlines provides similar information, although you have to search the word "SARS" to find it. Nevertheless, for the SARS-concerned traveler, there's helpful stuff, including what to expect when boarding the plane, answers to commonly asked questions, and a whole section on the mechanics of airline HEPA filters.
On the China National Tourist Office's official site, you have to dig fairly deep for any mention of the deadly disease. Under "News Release" there's a release declaring, "China National Tourist Office Pleased WHO Lifts All Travel Advisories for China." Interesting phrasing. One would think far more than the China National Tourist Office would be pleased the warning's been lifted.
What's to be learned from this recent health crisis? The more information disseminated, the better. It doesn't have to be plastered all over the home page, particularly as the crisis subsides, but it should be easily accessible for those who are truly concerned. Other suggestions to consider:
For those traveling during these summer months, bon voyage -- and have a safe journey!
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Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.
March 19, 2014